Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Time is ripe to move
on native rights bill

The issue: Critics say more hearings
are needed on the measure intended to
provide recognition for native Hawaiians.

The Akaka bill may not contain everything that everyone in the Hawaiian community wants, but the measure stands a good chance of winning the approval of Congress, a chance that may not come again. While some in the Hawaiian community see flaws in the bill, a prudent approach would be to get the law on the books, then make adjustments later.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday sent the bill, sponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, to the full body for consideration and with a companion House bill also set for a floor vote, the measure is ripe for passage.

Critics of the bill are calling for further hearings, saying it has been altered considerably since it was heard last August. In the ways of Washington, that would almost certainly lead to its death.

Mililani Trask, an attorney and former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, contends the bill as it now reads deprives Hawaiians of rights and claims as indigenous people, to attaining economic self-sufficiency, and to establishing its own governing system. She also asserts that a requirement that the state approve a governing entity will place it in state hands.

Senator Akaka counters that the bill is based "on the United States' recognition of Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal, indigenous peoples of Hawaii," and the bill's language states that the U.S. government "recognizes the right of the Native Hawaiian people to adopt organic governing documents."

Critics say passage of the bill isn't urgent because the Barrett case, which had attempted to challenge the constitutionality of native Hawaiian entitlements, was thrown out of state court earlier this month. However, that case was dismissed on technical grounds and could be revived. Moreover, looming over the matter is the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Rice vs. Cayetano that nullified the Hawaiian restriction in voting for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and opened the door to further constitutional challenges of native entitlement programs.

A more propitious time for the Akaka bill may not come soon. With Democrats holding the majority in the Senate and the influential Inouye chairing the instrumental Indian Affairs Committee, the measure has momentum. Congress has a notoriously short attention span; delaying the bill may submerge it in the myriad other issues that lawmakers have to contend with. Besides, concerns about Hawaii often don't have a high profile on Capitol Hill.

When opportunity knocks, one should open the door.

Court will strike down
’Net censorship again

The issue: The constitutionality of a
law that requires public libraries to block
Internet pornography is set for trial.

CONGRESS should brace itself for yet another rejection by the courts of its attempt to censor the Internet. Parents should be ultimately responsible for protecting children from Internet obscenity and pornography in public libraries. Filtering software required by Congress cannot come close to targeting objectionable Web sites accurately.

Five years ago, Congress passed a law that would have made it a crime to transmit "indecency" on the Internet to minors, but the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck it down. In 1998, Congress tried again with the Child Online Protection Act, which criminalized commercial transmission of material deemed "harmful to minors," but the federal courts blocked it. Last December, President Clinton signed into law the Children's Internet Protection Act, requiring public and school libraries to install filtering software to prevent children from gaining access to Internet pornography.

Get ready for strike three against Congress. Software that is designed to block obscene or pornographic material on the Internet from teaching the computer user's monitor is inadequate, even with recent improvements. The result is that adults wishing to do research on the Internet on subjects such as breast cancer or gynecology may have material blocked by so-called filters.

"Filters don't work," says Hawaii State Librarian Virginia Lowell. Identifying obscene material on 3,000 new Web sites a day, and as many that change daily, is impossible, she says. Hawaii public schools have obscenity filters, but they did not prevent a Nanakuli High School student from superimposing faces of other students on sexual images he had downloaded on a school computer.

A federal appellate judge in Philadelphia this week indicated that a three-judge panel will reject a Justice Department motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the new law by a coalition of public libraries, library patrons and the American Civil Liberties Union. The case is set for trial next February.

The Supreme Court has held in other cases that, in Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's words, "Protecting children from harmful materials...does not justify an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults." That is precisely what the new law would do if allowed to take effect.

The Hawaii library system in November began a policy of allowing parents to have a librarian accompany their children when using the Internet. Adults and juveniles can be -- and have been -- ejected from the library for violating another library policy against deliberately gaining access to pornography on the Internet. Those policies are adequate without resorting to computer software to restrict library patrons' use of the Internet.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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